Friday, April 8, 2011

The Rolling Stones Tour of the Americas 1975- The Lotus Stage

Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes
When the Rolling Stones hit the United States after a 3 year absence in 1975 they brought in tow a very impressive stage, which at the time was the largest and most expensive production to tour arenas costing $1.6 million.(Reference  It was also the first tour to feature PA and lighting systems that were entirely rigged from the ceiling with no support towers being used as opposed to the bukly PA systems that would sit on either side of the stage.(see photo)  This enabled every single seat to have a clear view of the stage.   Originally the plan was to play in the center of the arenas but according to Mick Jagger, there were to many sound problems and they didn't have enough time to fix them before the tour started. (Reference)   U2's Bono, who with U2 have staged some of rocks most important tours has sited the Lotus Flower stage from this tour as an inspiration. (Reference)

                                                                   Photo: Roland Feria

The Lotus Flower shaped stage was the centerpiece of the show which also featured an inflatable phallus, a confetti puffing dragon, and Jagger on a trapeze rope.  At some of the major dates the audiences were treated to calypso dancers, steel drummers, a Chinese dragon that would weave through the crowd, as well as billowing fabric drapes and blinking lights that arched up from the lighting truss and flew over the crowd.  The dull cold arenas they performed in were transformed into magical Asian themed temples of rock n roll that left audiences wowed and was truly the beginning of the Rolling Stones stage spectacle that has continued until this day.    The impressive stage which was conceptualized by drummer Charlie Watts (RS Issue 191) and designed by famed theatrical designer Robin Wagner , who was a pioneer for large scale automated scenery. 
                                                      Photo: Roland Feria
  The design featured huge triangle shaped petals that were closed at the beginning of the show and would slowly open during the opening number 'Honky Tonk Women'.  As they opened, Mick Jagger would be towards the top of the center petal peaking over into the audience as it lowered down revealing the band.
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes

If you go to the 14:12 mark in the below video you can view very rare footage of Mick being lowered on the petal: 
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes
The front petals would raise up slightly during the show during certain numbers and would close fully at the end of the show.   The stage although not in the middle of the arena allowed seating all around it but the band primarily played to the front of the stage. The stage floor was ornately decorated with an intricate floral/paisley like pattern.  The stage was also gently raked in elevation with the back being 8 feet high and the front 4 feet high.

It should be noted that the Stones 1976 Europe tour featured a re-floored stage that was much less intricate and had a maze-like pattern on it. It also did not have the neon lighting running inside the outer edges and instead had yellow and blue lightbulbs along the outer edges.  (see photos here 1, 2, 3).  

Photo: Neil Fitzpatrick
 Two stages were used, one that featured blue and red neon lights built into it that were covered by clear plexiglass as to shine through, and hydraulics that opened and closed the petals was used on the East and West coast as well as the Chicago show, while the one without hydraulics and neon lights was used on the other indoor arena dates.   Both stages had foot wide strips of mirror outlining each petal which were rumored to be used not only for looks but as a warning strip for the often stoned band so they wouldn't walk over the edge. 
   Here is the blueprint for the hydraulic equipped stage:

Photo: Roland Feria
  The outside of the petals that did open and close were covered in strips of aluminum that gave it a mirror look and  created a beautiful effect at the beginning of the show when the spotlights would reflect off of them and into the audience.   
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes
As can be seen in the above photo, the band would be concealed by hanging fabric that would be lit in purple and would be pulled up into the lighting truss as the petals lowered with Mick at the very top of the center petal peaking out at the crowd.  
Below is a great shot taken before the show at Madison Square Garden.  You can see the steel drummers and their drums at the front of the stage.  
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes

Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes

 The show was lit by Broadway veteran Jules Fisher who had designed stages for David Bowie and would go on to design stages for Kiss (see post here). Interviewed on the beggining of the tour Jules Fischer told Rolling Stone magazine "Wait till you see the Madison Square Garden show, It'll be decorated like a garden: hundreds of leaves on cables leading to the stage and the petals of the stage will be closed to resemble a tree trunk. The petals will open to show the band and Mick will rise on an elevator and we'll project flying eagles all over the audience.(see photo here) The leaves, ten-foot leaves will rise on hydraulic pistons and there'll be neon rimming on the stage.  It'll be beautiful."(RS Issue 191) According to Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone, the 350 ten-foot leaves made of white gauze with silver foil trim removed from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden before the show because they were considered ineffective and too much of a temptation to the hands of the audience. (Reference)

As seen in the lighting plot above, the lighting rig was circular in shape which was very cutting edge at the time and featured a mix of Par 64 and Par 36 cans as can be seen in the photo below. It also featured super trooper spotlights on either side of the stage at 45 degree angles towards the back of the arenas. *These same lights had been used on the 1972 stage where they were used very effectively in a effect designed by Chip Monk.  They were on stage behind the band pointed up  towards the ceiling and would bounce off a huge mirror that was over the stage. (See photos here 1 2 and video
The above shot is actually from the Europe 76 tour but used the same lighting rig.  

Below is a photo taken at the Madison Square Garden show just before showtime. You will notice the blue "christmas" lights strung out over the crowd from the lighting rig, and the cluster of lights prominent in the photo that were projecting the eagles that Fischer had mentioned. You can also see in the front rows around the stage, the steel drummers and calypso band hired for the show.  They would play before the intro of "Fanfare for the Common Man" signaled the start of the show.
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes
Here is the stage being set up for the first time at the tours first stop in Baton Rouge. 
Photo: Annie Leibovitz
Below the same non-hydraulic equipped stage is constructed in Minneapolis.

 During Star Star and inflatable phallus would come through the center of the stage and wave madly in the air as Jagger would ride it and on some occasions attack it until it deflated back into the stage.    It was nicknamed "tired grandfather" by the band because of its inability to stay upright.    The prop was controversial and in San Antonio, a judge told the Stones management that if they used the prop, the concert would be shut down.   They decided not to use it on that stop but it was used at all the other indoor arena shows.  

Photo: Bob Gruen
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes

The footage below taken from the Los Angeles Forum show on July 7th is interesting as the penis has been transformed into a middle finger complete with nail and and knuckle markings.   

Billy Preston who was the touring keyboardist with the band at the time was given two songs during the set "That's Life" and  "Outta Space", during the latter, a trapeze rope would descend from the lighting rig and Jagger would swing out over the first 5 or so rows of the audience, making sure everyone knew that he was still the ringleader of this circus. 
      Above and bottom right Photo: Roland Feria

At the climax of the shows during Jumping Jack Flash, Jagger would bring out a dragon head that had an inflatable tongues that would lap at the audience in the front row and would spew confetti into the air. 
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes
The shows in MSG and LA ended with Sympathy for the Devil with the steel drummers and dancers circling the stages as the petals closed around the band ending what was for many Stones fans, the ultimate concert and tour.  
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes

At the 7:12  mark in the below video, you can see Mick Jagger re-enter the stage via the elevator located in front of Charlie Watts drum platform, the same hole in which the phallus and the dragon come out of.  

You can click here for a 30 minute audio interview with Mick Jagger from June 11, 1975 where Mick discusses the stage design.  
For anyone intersted in doing further research, I would recommend tracking down the 1978 book The Rolling Stones On Tour by Sykes, Liebovitz, and Southern, a lot of the images used in this post were taken from that book.  For those with some extra cash on hand, Genesis publications produced a deluxe leather bound book The Rolling Stones Tour of the America's 75, by Sykes, Rudge, and Jagger for  a cool $700.   
Special thanks to the people on that helped with me with this piece, especially Roland Feria, and Richard Galbraith.  


That Damn Sam said...

Very cool! Good work, I really enjoyed reading this!

Mike M. in Las Vegas said...

Hi from Las Vegas (for now,)
Just wanted to let you know that this 'Concert Stage Design' blog is really cool. It seems that you unfortunately have not not been able to keep it updated? I want to say that I, and my friends that I've passed your link on to really enjoy the work you have done. If you are thinking it has been under appreciated, please don't! Would love to see what other great stage 'history' you have to share. Just a kind couple of words from a 48 year old Stones/Bowie/General R&R fan, who has always been fascinated by innovative stage design.... Thanks, Mike M.

Sagedrummer said...

Hi Mike
Thanks for the comment, I am glad you enjoyed reading my blog. After neglecting it for a year I am ready to get back into it, so thanks for your support.-

Kevin said...

My first concert EVER... TOTA MSG 75 NYC... with the African drummers baging for an hour before the show.... I was fifteen...

stombs said...

Helluva a concert intro, Kevin. I was also at MSG in '75. And thank you to Ben for this page - it brings back memories.

And speaking of memories, I thought I remember the phallus also blowing confetti into the audience. But my memories may be as foggy as the air was at the time...

K.K. White said...

I was at the MSG show of this tour, and everything documented here is just as I remember it! the relentless keenignof the the steel drummers as they emerged and slowly circled the stage....the lavender fabric "cup" of the inverted lotus being drawn up slowly as the thrumb-BOP!! thrumb-ba-dum-BOP opening chords of "honky tonk women" blasted out from SOMEwhere in there; mick up on the point as the "petals" unfolded, mirror flashes of light off the big panels of shiny metal covering their undersides..charlie revealed, up on a platform, as the lavender sheet lifted fucker! sympathy for the devil!! I never had such a blast at a rock show. I'm so glad my dad could push past his loathing of all the dirt and psychedelia of the 60s/70s musical revolution to get seats for my friends and I to see this show!

Jonno said...

What a sensational blog! I've just flicked through the TOTA stage. I'm hoping to find some images of the 1972 stage because it, at the time was revolutionary and the lighting and sound was by far the best 'on the road' that year.

Top1cat1 said...

Just found this site, so have to jump in with thank you for spot on accuracy. Did not remember the eagles, the Christmas lights, but at msg on Tues night show over 6y sections walked the isles, jump starting false momentum. One of the best waiting time ever. Shows first chords after 9:15. Top 3 shows ever for me,43 years ago to the month...

Top1cat1 said...

Thank you, awesome descriptions brought thoughts back to show. Had forgotten eagles, remember Christmas lights, and several sections of calypso band walking isles building up false monentum. 8pm show was rocking with expectation, and a bit of nyc attitude that this better be good for keeping us waiting...Well after 9, calypso synced in front of stage, house lights shut, and since that moment, I have been a stones fan

Unknown said...

Mine too !! Except it was at the LA forum, my favorite tour

Unknown said...

This was a fascinating answer with amazing pics and hour or nts. Well played sir! Thank you for sharing